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"Wildcat" | Reviewed by Joan Kletzker

“Wildcat,” by John Boessenecker, is the fascinating account of a woman who was a stagecoach robber in 1899. Lillie Naomi Davy, known as Pearl Hart, was an interesting woman. She was born into poverty in a large dysfunctional family in 1871, and she led an adventurous life.

This book focuses on her as well her siblings’ lives in the unruly Western United States at the turn of the 20th century. Some of the history cannot be verified, but the author has a done a terrific job of research and attempted to portray, as accurately as possible, the life of a woman bandit, a rarity in those days.

The author gives abundant anecdotal tidbits about the West at this time in American history. Pearl often dressed like a man, was married three times and was in and out of jail. She ran with a very rough crowd, to say the least. She was a prostitute; surprisingly, this did not have the stigma it has today. Many women worked in brothels, and many married and lived a lawful life.

Pearl, her mother and siblings managed to stay in touch for most of their lives. When Pearl discovered her mother needed help, Pearl and her friend, Joe Boot, decided to hold up a stagecoach in Arizona. They robbed the passengers and then let them go. No one was injured. One passenger had almost $400, a fortune in those days. The pair was eventually arrested and then they broke out of jail. Many in Pearl’s family finally wound up living together in California. Her siblings also led lives of crime.

This account of Hart, and the law enforcement and social mores of the day are meticulously told. The detail with which the author writes makes this unlikely story of a woman bandit highly credible. If you like American history from the late 19th to the mid-20th centuries, and reading about the West’s development from lawlessness to settled communities , you will enjoy this slice of Western Americana. “Wildcat” was illuminating and certainly held my attention.

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